A Study of Prince’s Teachings on Self-Examination, Confession, Repentance, Stewardship and Conviction
I wrote the following points with fear and trembling, knowing that God will hold me accountable for every careless word. I wrote out of love and especially concern for many younger believers who will not know how to answer this new ‘gospel of grace,´ which is different from what hundreds of generations of Christians have received and what is taught in the Bible.
My intention is not to trash another man’s ministry, but to protect the flock of God from obvious errors when so many are being led astray. I have nothing against Joseph Prince personally or the way he runs his ministry. My only concern is with the wrong teaching that he espouses in his books.
This document critiques Destined to Reign: The Secret to Effortless Success, Wholeness and Victorious Living, published in 2007 by Harrison House. I wrote it in bullet point format so that the logic would be easy to follow.
a. Joseph Prince teaches that Christians do not need to examine themselves
i. On page 173, ‘My friends, God does not require you to search your heart and locate your sins before you can worship Him.’
ii. On page 187, ‘I do not deny that sin must be punished, but I am declaring to you that all your sins have already been punished on the body of Jesus. He is your perfect sin offering and we who have received His forgiveness should have no more consciousness of sins. Stop examining yourself and searching your heart for sin. Remember that when someone takes his sin offering to the priest, the priest does not examine him. He examines the sin offering.´
b. The Bible teaches that Christians should examine themselves to see if they are in a right relationship with God
i. In 2 Corinthians 13, Paul is giving a stern final warning to people in Corinth that are opposing him. He warns them to examine themselves to see if they are truly in the faith. These are believers that Paul is talking to (or at least people who think they are believers). In verse 5, ‘Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you, unless, of course, you fail the test?’
ii. In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul tells the Philippians to continue to work out their salvation with great respect for God, who is also working in them. This is a warning to pay attention to their spiritual state. ‘Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.’
a. Joseph Prince teaches that Christians must only confess their sins once to receive forgiveness for all their sins, past, present, and future.
i. On pages 107-109, Joseph Prince teaches that 1 John 1:5-10 says Christians must only confess their sins once. Afterwards, they can ‘walk in the light´ and no longer need to confess. (Furthermore, because 1 John clearly tells people to confess, Prince says that it is addressed to Gnostics and not believers. He is forced to make this assumption or otherwise admit that 1 John tells believers to confess their sins whenever they are aware of them. I address this point below.)
ii. On page 107- ‘My friend, this is the assurance you can have today: The day you received Christ, you confessed all your sins once and for all.’
iii. On page 108, ‘When we understand this verse [John 1:7], we realize that even when we sin, we sin in the realm of the light! So, if we sin in the light, we are cleansed in the light, and we are kept in the light. This idea of us going into darkness when we sin is not from the Bible.´
iv. On pages 111-113, Prince talks about Paul’s instructions on communion in 1 Corinthians 11. He says that partaking in an ‘unworthy manner’ does not mean partaking with knowledge of sin, but rather partaking without acknowledging the payment of Jesus for our sin.
b. The Bible teaches that Christians receive forgiveness by confessing their sin, and that not confessing our sin is spiritually harmful.
i. James 5:16 says, ‘Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.´ This admonition is addressed to believers.
ii. Psalm 32:1-3 says, ‘Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord and you forgave the guilt of my sin.’
In Romans 4, Paul uses these verses from David and says they apply to believers.
1. Joseph Prince teaches that all teachings about repentance, confession, and blessings and curses in the Old Testament do not apply to believers today. However, God saved believers in the Old Testament because of their forward-looking faith in Christ (Hebrews 11:13) in the same way he saves us today. While we no longer need to make animal sacrifices, we still need to confess our sin to maintain a right relationship with God. He still requires repentance. In fact, in Romans 4:4-8, Paul quotes the Psalm above as an example of someone in the Old Testament (King David) who was saved by faith.
iii. In regard to 1 John 1, Prince teaches that this is addressed to Gnostics and not to believers. It is true that 1 John warns about Gnosticism, but it is addressed to believers and not to Gnostics. This is abundantly clear from the creed John writes in 1 John 2:12-14. Therefore, I believe the commandment to confess sins in 1 John 1:9 is addressed to believing Christians. Also, all Christian commentaries that I have read are in agreement about this, and Joseph Prince is the only person I’m aware of who teaches contrary.
a. Joseph Prince teaches that repenting is simply ‘changing our mind´ and does not include remorse or sorrow for our sin.
i. On page 233, ‘By the way, for all of you who feel that there should be more preaching on repentance, do you know what the word ‘repent’ means in the first place? The word ‘repent’ is the Greek word metanoeo, which according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, simply means ‘to change one’s mind. But because we have been influenced by our denominational background as well as our own religious upbringing, many of us have the impression that repentance is something that involves mourning and
1. Here, Joseph Prince clearly misleads the reader. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon lists the following for ‘repent’:
a. to change one’s mind, i.e. to repent
b. to change one’s mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins
The word ‘abhor´ means to regard with extreme repugnance, to loathe or hate. Clearly, this is more than simply ‘to change one’s mind´! How can Joseph Prince selectively quote Thayer’s Greek Lexicon to support his argument when that source actually teaches the opposite?! To me, this seriously calls Joseph Prince’s honesty into question. You can see the entry for ‘repent´ in Thayer’s online for yourself here:
ii. On page 152, ‘It is a lie that guilt and condemnation will lead you back to God.´
iii. On page 155, Prince tries to use the example of the Prodigal Son to show that God accepts even those who do not repent. He says the son did not have right motives, even though Jesus Himself describes the son as repenting in Luke 15:17-18. Moreover, Jesus puts the Prodigal Son parable along with the Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin. In both those parables, Jesus explicitly says, ‘In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who
repents.´ All three of these parables hang together to illustrate how God welcomes those who repent.
b. The Bible teaches that God intends for Christians to experience godly sorrow when they sin that leads to repentance and life (but not worldly sorrow, which leads to death).
i. In 2 Corinthians 7:8-11, Paul says that the Corinthians (who were already believers) repented after reading his rebuke. They realized their sin and were sorrowful. As a result of their conviction of sin, the Holy Spirit led them to repentance.
Paul writes, ‘I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right.´ (NLT)
This is a very important view into how the Holy Spirit brings conviction, but Satan brings condemnation. The conviction that the Holy Spirit brings leads us to the cross of Jesus, where we repent and receive full cleansing of our sin, with no regrets afterwards! Satan, however, brings condemnation that eventually leads to death. Joseph Prince does not understand or acknowledge this distinction.
All these things are God’s grace to us. We are responsible for making the most of them. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:9-10, he made the most of God’s grace in his life. Hebrews 12:14-17 also warns us not to miss the grace of God by sinning, like Esau did.
viii. Consider the parables that Jesus told concerning stewardship
1. Parable of the Stewards in Luke 12:41-48. Here, Jesus answered Peter that more would be expected from the disciples than others.
2. ‘Parable of the Sower’ in Matthew 13:1-23. Here, Jesus said that people were responsible to respond to the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit.
3. Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. Here, it is clear that Jesus will judge people according to the opportunities given them.
a. Joseph Prince teaches that all guilty feelings are from the devil and that God only works in people so that they know they are righteous in Him. He denies that the Holy Spirit works in people to convict them of sin.
i. On page 134, ‘The bottom line is that the Holy Spirit never convicts you of your sins. He NEVER comes to point out your faults. I challenge you to find a scripture in the Bible that the Holy Spirit comes to convict you of your sins.´
ii. On page 151, ³Remind yourself that the Holy Spirit was sent to convict you of your righteousness apart from works.´
iii. On pages 136 and 137, Prince says that Christians in the past misinterpreted John 16:8-11. In his interpretation, the Holy Spirit convicts unbelievers of only one sin: unbelief. He also interprets Jesus as meaning that the Holy Spirit convicts people of their righteousness in Him.
b. The Bible teaches that conviction of sin leads us to repentance, and that it is the work of the Holy Spirit
i. In John 16:8-11, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.´ (NIV)
ii. Throughout Christian history, Christians have believed that the Holy Spirit works in people to convict them of sin. This is shown in classic commentaries on John 16:8-11 that have been used by preachers for
hundreds of years.
1. Adam Clarke (1826), in his commentary, said about John 16:8, ‘we may consider that it is one of the grand offices of the Holy Spirit to convince of sin, to show men what sin is, to demonstrate to them that they are sinners, and to show the necessity of an atonement for sin.´
2. Matthew Henry (1721), in his commentary, said about John 16:8 and the general work of the Holy Spirit among all people, not just unbelievers, ‘The Spirit convinces of the fact of sin, that we have done so and so; of the fault of sin, that we have done ill in doing so; of the folly of sin, that we have acted against right reason, and our true interest; of the filth of sin, that by it we are become odious to God; of the fountain of sin, the corrupt nature; and lastly, of the fruit of sin, that the end thereof is death.´
About verse 10, he says that the Holy Spirit convicts people of the righteousness of Jesus, which can be applied to believers. ‘The Spirit shall convince men of this righteousness. Having by convictions of sin shown them their need of a righteousness, lest this should drive them to despair he will show them where it is to be had, and how they may, upon their believing, be acquitted from guilt, and accepted as righteous in God’s sight.´
iii. What Joseph Prince teaches is different than what Christian ministers have preached before.
1. Men like Charles Finney, Jonathan Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards focused on people’s hidden sins to bring them to repentance. Their ministries were marked by sorrowful, heartfelt repentance and led to many sincere conversions.
iv. Furthermore, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God (either read in the Bible or heard through preaching) to convict people of sin.
1. Hebrews 4:12-13 says, ’For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.´ (NIV) The author of Hebrews is warning believers against rejecting the word of God. He says the Holy Spirit uses the word of God that is read in the Bible or heard through preaching to convict Christians of their sins. This verse is not directed at unbelievers, but believers. In conclusion, I would like to plead with my brothers and sisters to reject this new ‘gospel of grace.´ I believe that many sincere Christians, especially those who are young in the faith and not grounded in God’s word, will be led astray by this teaching.
In his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, the Christian martyr Dietrich Bonheoffer specifically argued against this type of ‘cheap grace.´ He wrote that cheap grace blocks Christians from the fullness of what God has for them, and that understanding ‘costly grace´ is necessary to follow Jesus.
‘Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.’
‘Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.´
Certainly following Jesus and His words is not easy. It is not like what Joseph Prince promises, it is not a ‘secret to effortless success.´ However, it is worth the cost.